If there was one thing that stood out for me at the 2018 Scottish Renewables annual conference in Edinburgh at the end of last month it was the high status given to social and community issues across the agenda.
At a similar conference in England, there might be a panel session on community ownership and social impact at the end of Day 2 when most people are already thinking of their networking cocktail. It would certainly play second fiddle to and be separate from discussions of technological change, regulatory upheaval, competition and finance.
Thatâ€™s not to say that these undoubtedly important topics werenâ€™t covered in Edinburgh; in a time of economic uncertainty and rapid transition, of course they were. Rather, the importance of community and social impact was woven into each of them, suggesting a wholly different philosophy about the role and values of the energy sector with people and communities at its heart.
For example, when the First Minister and later the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy were asked about the ongoing consultation on Good Practice Principles for community benefit not only did they not react as if this was something relatively unimportant but both spoke knowledgeably on the issue. Both emphasized the importance of an energy sector that works with and for the people, particularly those living in the vicinity of energy installations.
Surely building desired social outcomes into the strategic planning of the sector â€“ as the Scottish and Welsh governments seem to be doing â€“ rather than bolting on correctives to a market that still seems to result in millions of people, especially the energy poor, being effectively overcharged is an eminently sensible way to proceed.
That this is not a heretical thought was also evidenced by the level of genuine interest in the Our Community Energy (OUCE) stand that we had at the conference. OUCE is a new organization created by Mongoose Energy and Our Power to expand community-owned renewables in Scotland and use the profits to support those suffering from energy poverty. Our recent research suggests that this group accounts for as much as a third of the Scottish population.
OUCE already owns one operational wind farm in Berwickshire, is currently constructing a 9.6MW farm in East Lothian and is looking for more potential sites. As a community benefit society, OUCE will be owned by its shareholder-members who receive an index-linked dividend each year.
If you are interested in supporting this groundbreaking initiative, either by becoming a member or investing in the ISA-eligible bonds, please visit Mongooseâ€™s crowdfunding platform, Mongoose Crowd at www.mongoosecrowd.co.uk. As with all investments your capital is at risk and returns are not guaranteed. But, unlike many others, your money will be doing well by doing good.